What Keeps Me up at Night

On November 19 I had an idea.
As I sat at the library working on a story, a question popped into my mind. I don’t know where it came from. It wasn’t directly related to the story I was writing, and it appeared in a nanosecond. What do homeless women and women who can’t afford feminine hygiene products do each month when they’re on their periods? A quick Google search of local Nashville nonprofits serving this population revealed that most did not ask for these products explicitly. Though toiletries were on most of their wish lists, who reads toiletries and thinks tampons or pads? I don’t.
I started making phone calls. Maybe I was missing something? Maybe organizations that serve homeless women and women in transitional housing didn’t need these items and that’s why they weren’t asking for them? But when I spoke with an employee of a local homeless shelter, he said, “Oh my God, we can’t keep them on the shelves!” Then an idea came. It arrived as quickly as the initial question. I have to start a holiday drive to collect tampons and pads for homeless women and women in transitional housing. The idea that women in Nashville were going without something so essential, so basic, so necessary for maintaining personal dignity, rattled me. I had never before considered that something so easily accessible to me might be considered a luxury to someone else. And while I have never had the experience personally of having to go without feminine hygiene products, I know intimately what it feels like to experience shame around my period. Those are memories that do not leave you quickly.   
I couldn’t sleep that night. I tossed and turned. The idea stood at the end of my bed pulling the covers off of me saying, Pay attention to me! Do something about me!
But I was scared. This idea was going to mean putting myself out there in a way I’d never done before. It was going to mean venturing into unfamiliar territory, territory certainly outside of my wheelhouse. Did I really want to be the face of periods? What if people made fun of me? What kind of cruel jokes would people make? What if no one supported me? What if I failed? This went on for days. I stopped sleeping.
I ran the idea by all the usual suspects: my mom, my sister, my hair stylist, my mentor, my therapist, and a few other close friends. The feedback was the same from everyone: I've never thought about that before. You should do it. How can I help? 
But the fear. It was loud and obnoxious and took up a lot of space. It told me this was a dumb idea, a waste of my time, and no one would ever get behind it. Finally, during another sleepless night, I asked myself, What is stopping you from doing this? The answer was clear and singular: I am afraid of what others will think about me. But the thought that immediately followed was, That's not a good enough answer. Do it anyway.
So I got busy. I started making phone calls, sending emails, writing copy, asking people for their help. I knew I had a very short window to make this all come together before kick off—less than a week, in fact. Everyone I asked for help said yes. Except one.
When I reached out to a local news reporter I know to cover the drive, I received a curt response telling me the drive was “too gross for viewers.” This was the day before I was to announce the campaign. The fear got loud and big again. I thanked the reporter for the consideration and then wondered if I should call the whole thing off. What was I doing? Maybe the reporter’s response was right? Was I about to open myself up to a world of hurt?
And then I decided I didn’t care what one person thought. I didn’t care what a hundred people thought, or a thousand people, or ten thousand people. What I cared about were the women with no voice unable to maintain the same dignity I am so easily granted each month. Too gross? Never. What is gross is women going without their basic needs being met.
The day before Thanksgiving I launched It's the Holidays, PeriodThe campaign goal is to collect at least 500 unopened boxes of tampons and pads by December 31. I shared what I was doing on Facebook first. A few minutes went by—no likes, no comments, no shares. I was terrified. My worst nightmare was coming true. No one cared and now I looked like a crazy lady obsessed with other women's periods. But then a friend from Atlanta commented. She wanted to donate money since she couldn’t donate product in person. Then a friend from New York City echoed that. And from there, the idea for financial contributions was born. My first supporters were people from outside Nashville.
Flash forward 13 days, and we’ve raised over $2,000 (all of which will be used to buy tampons and pads) and collected nearly 200 boxes of tampons and pads for three local nonprofits, each serving a different segment of the female population here in Nashville. Local newspapers and blogs have covered the campaign. It’s been shared over 300 times on social media. Financial contributions have come in from all over: Atlanta, New York City, Charleston, Florida, even Ireland. Product donations have come in from as far away as California. Businesses have reached out to me to volunteer to become drop-off locations. Friends in other cities have started their own drives and are sending their collections to me. Folks and businesses hosting holiday parties have asked their guests to bring a box of tampons or pads with them as their contribution to the party. Most days I can’t wrap my mind around it all.
In the past, when I’ve heard people say there were no words to describe something, I thought they just lacked creativity. But through this campaign, I now understand that people can display a measure of love, support, and willingness to help that can only be felt, that no words can fully describe. I now understand that a mission to heal others is really just a mission to heal yourself. I understand that I feel closest to humanity when I am serving it. I understand that overcoming your fears is not a selfish endeavor; overcoming your fears is an act of service. Who will benefit as a result of your courage? Who will be helped because knees shaking, heart pounding, you pounded on the gates of fear and demanded to be let in? When will doing become more important than others' opinion of you?
I still can’t sleep, but it’s no longer out of fear. Now it’s passion and excitement, gratitude and enthusiasm that keep me up at night. It’s a deep appreciation for a community of individuals willing to rally around a cause born at a library workstation and drafted at my mom’s dining room table. We still have 23 days to go, and I don’t sleep because I can’t wait to see what each day brings, what new ways I will be challenged and comforted by those things that are outside my control, what responses and results I can set aside so timing can do its thing. No matter what happens—whether we hit the goal or we don’t—I know a part of me, a part I’ve spent a long time ignoring, has found some peace.
I must also extend an enormous thank you to the following individuals and Nashville businesses who jumped on board early on to lend a hand when this thing was still just circulating through my head: Amanda McClanahan, owner of Cognito Hair Design; Kady Decker, owner of Pure Barre Green Hills and Pure Barre White Bridge; Ashley Sheehan, owner of Old Made Good; and my mom who has allowed me to turn her home into a tampon and pad repository. I have never once felt alone in this effort.
If you are interested in learning more about this campaign, please visit gofundme.com/itstheholidays or email me at kate at aimingforokay dot com.